Ecoquest 1 - The Search for Cetus
Release date: 1991
A review by André 06th February 2003
Oh dear, the first, I catch sight of on the screen, is a tiny, only dressed in shorts, perhaps 8-year-old, quite grainy pixeled boy in an identical environment. The game is from 1991, thus old as the hills. The box says that it's recommended for gamers starting from the age of ten years. Did I make a mistake buying this game, I asked myself? No, I didn't! Because after my first, probably natural skepticism, I courageously just started to play and quickly discovered that Eco Quest is quite captivating. That is probably also because of such high-ranking names as Jane Jensen (the creator of the ingenious Gabriel Knight series) or Ken Williams, who are jointly responsible for the game.
Alright, those who are only playing adventure games with state-of-the-art-graphics or those who expect only fairly up-to-date graphics, should steer well clear of Eco Quest, because it's, as already said, very old. But you will fast discover that the graphics of Eco Quest are child-fair but nevertheless just as solid and on the high standard of that time, as one knows it from Sierra games. That applies to the sometimes quite colorful backgrounds, implemented again in detail. And watching our little hero in close-ups during conversations, he nevertheless looks quite cute. The numerous animations are also designed with much love for details. They are beautiful and give the game vividness, for example when our companion, the dolphin, swims elegantly around us.
Due to the catastrophical American environmental policy, the US are considered as one of the biggest pollutors on our planet that don't care much about world-wide protests. The population of the country is considered generally as little interested and informed in such politics. So I find it pleasing to see, that Sierra deals with this topic, even if it's only a game. More exactly said, it's about the pollution of the seas. Adam is the son of a scientist/inventor, who is concerned with exactly this topic. One day Adam visits the nursing station for dolphins, for which his father is likewise responsible. There he meets an intimidated dolphin. He makes himself friends with the dolphin and notices that the animal can speak. The dolphin tells him about problems in the underwater world and Adam instantly put on his diving equipment, in order to help.
That is only the beginning of a capturing - even for adults - adventure game. In the course of the game it leads Adam to old ruins, oracles, even whole cities under water, in which fish live in their caves, without becoming somehow embarrassing or too childlike.
Just the opposite - the game works to a large extent like a fairy tale or fantasy adventure of the good old Sierra school and not like a political adventure. The environmental topics were combined well with the fantasy themes and flow child-fairly into the story as strong part of the plot. Besides we experience the underwater world and their inhabitants, if e.g. the dolphin explains the symbiosis between anemone fish and anemone. Very good the increase towards the end of the game. The situation nearly dramatically escalates in a final fight (of course without action).
Actually I don't particularly like underwater sequences in an adventure game, since these are often connected with time limits. But Adam kindly has unlimited air thanks diving equipment. So the time-limited puzzles are omitted and one also cannot die in another way.
Since the game is actually designed for a younger target group, you may not expect too hard puzzles. The degree of difficulty can be classified as rather easy to at best medium. I also like easier games and Eco Quest is very relaxing entertainment when it comes to puzzling, without becoming too simple or boring.
A nice point also, that the puzzles were nearly always built up logically. So Eco Quest offers a welcome change to the otherwise often very difficult Sierra adventures of this time. The puzzles, mainly the correct use and combining of objects (also within the inventory) or slider-puzzles, are designed very imaginative and interesting.
Brief transition sequences often take place unexpectedly, when you are busy solving the preceding puzzle, lending the game much dynamism. If one listens well, one knows fast, what is to be done next. Difficult passages are rare. The game has the same scoring system proved in Gabriel Knight and other Sierra games, and again and again you are satisfied, when hearing the "Pling"-sound, swelling your points.
I stated lately that it is an indication for a good, old adventure game, if a missing speech output does not disturb at all. Of course there is speech in Eco Quest, but I unfortunately didn't get it running. As background music you still get the whimpering computer sounds, that are typical of that era. There are many different tracks and these sounds are, as said, old, but very professional. They support the atmosphere of the respective situations very well and lend additional suspense (e.g. at the end of the game). Sometimes the music is amazingly "groovy" even in the context of its possibilities.
Bugs and errors
The orthography is astonishing incorrect for Sierra means, so that it can hardly be overlooked. Can it be that the translation wasn't made in Germany? Sometimes I had the feeling that even the sense of complete sentences was not understood. Partly the dolphin's jokes were literally translated into German, and that sounds so unfunny that it hurts.
Otherwise the game crashed about fou or five times. Interesting, that this happened only, when I acted differently to the developers plans. The game then politely said good-bye with an apology and the request, to try again. But, well, it's an old game still on disks and ran otherwise nevertheless very smoothly. After all I played it under Windows 98.
I do not have to write much here, because there is actually nothing wrong with it. Well, the inventory must be rummaged around a bit out of the menu bar. Besides one finds more unpractical inventories in newer games (e.g. in Jazz & Faust or the unbeatable bad inventory of Chaos at the Set). Otherwise the menu bar at the top of the screen unfolds and you can control Adam with pleasantly few commands, which are clearly represented as icons.
Adam runs or swims rather rapidly and the fact that Adam swims, makes Eco Quest nevertheless unique: Since Adam spends the most time of the game in the sea, it seemed to me, as if he could visit substantially more locations. At least other interesting courses of action resulted by swimming.
I now simply try to estimate the game for the kiddies, because it was actually conceived for them, even if the target group today might be rather adult Sierra fans. Actually one can recommend the game for children without hesitation. Eco Quest is non-violent and the puzzles are to a large extent logically developed. The degree of difficulty is, as said, moderate and therefore the game might be comprehensible for young adventurers depending upon maturity starting from the age of 10 years. However the question arises to me whether todays children are still seriously interested in such an old game, which has been around for 10 good years or more. I can imagine well that they rather want to play the games of the newest generation. On the other hand children are sometimes also more impartial, than one may think. If someone can acquire Eco Quest reasonable, he or she can "try it out" with his/her child. In any case it will do no harm.
Eco Quest totally enthralled me and lets even graphically more current adventures look old, concerning fun factor, no matter whether I think of the cute animations, the exciting story or the imaginative puzzles. The topic of environmental pollution is well selected and successfully integrated into the plot. The few weak points like avoidable crashes and bad grammar do not really cloud the fun, so that I gladly rate this appealing, entertaining game:
Rating: 81 %
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for Hardcore-Adventure-Freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Minimal system requirements:
- IBM compatible 486DX or higher (Pentium recommended)
- Windows 95
- 8 MB RAM
- 22 MB free hard disk space
- 2x CDROM-drive
- SVGA graphic card and VESA support, resolution 640 x 480
- Win 98
- Pentium III
- 64 MB RAM
- Soundblaster Pro
- 40x CDROM-drive